Moscow: An Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion, rumoured to be Russian President Vladimir Putin's lover, has been appointed the head of a powerful pro-Kremlin media group.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Alina Kabayeva. Pics/Getty Images
Alina Kabayeva (31) announced on Monday that she was standing down early after seven years as a lawmaker for the ruling United Russia party, without saying why.
"Alina Maratovna has accepted the offer of our shareholders to chair the board of directors," National Media Group's (NMG) spokeswoman Oksana Razumova told AFP using Kabayeva's patronymic.
NMG was created in a 2008 merger that included the holdings of businessman Yury Kovalchuk, who is also chairman of Bank Rossiya.
The bank was hit by the first wave of Western sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea and both the European Union and the United States have slapped asset freezes and travel bans on Kovalchuk. Brussels said in July that NMG "controls television stations which actively support the Russian government's policies of destabilisation of Ukraine".
Kabayeva will replace Kovalchuk's nephew Kirill as head of the group. Kabayeva, who has two sports management degrees, used to host a television chat show but "she has no other experience in the media business" Russia's Vedomosti business daily said.
In 2008, Russian newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent alleged that Putin had secretly divorced and was about to marry Kabayeva. Both parties denied it, with Putin lashing out at journalists for prying into his private life. The newspaper announced its closure shortly afterwards.
The rumour has refused to die, however, and speculation over Putin's love life reignited after he and his wife Lyudmila announced their divorce last year. Kabayeva won gold at the 2004 Olympics before hanging up her ribbons in 2007.